Robert and Maureen McQuillan write:
One of the big problems in church leadership over the past 20 years or so has been pastors ‘burning out.’
Oh there’s still controversy over what really is burnout, breakdown, overwork exhaustion, depression and such.
That’s just the technical side and one for the experts to decide on. Definitions such as found in SM-5 type manuals can fluctuate and be updated as further research and case studies arise.
In truth, many times a person is labelled as depressed or bipolar 1 and given appropriate medication simply because the medical professions (Thank you for them, Lord!) can’t fully pin down the problem. But thankfully what is prescribed does help stabilise troubled people and get them going again.
Resultant in-house problems
A built-in problem has been/is certain leaders being afraid to acknowledge their health problemsto their church and especially their executives.
There’s been a wrong fear of being labelled a failure and that their faith isn’t strong enough, that they’re not trusting their Lord enough.
But, if such criticisms arise, they’re usually being expressed by insensitive people, by those who simply don’t understand leadership pressures, the fragility of the human mind and the need for leaders to be supported.
Result? Many leaders – in the business world, the general work force, the entertainment industry and politics too as well as in the church – have suffered terribly.
Anyone who has gone through burnout, or whatever the problem has been named, will quickly understand what we’re talking about without us having to itemise every aspect or category. Both women and men are affected but men can be hit hardest – especially if their wife doesn’t understand what is going on and, as can happen, doesn’t even try.
A man’s physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual side is tortured, particularly if she closes the door to deeper intimate closeness and criticises, demoralises and, worse still, doesn’t forgive unresolved matters from the past.
A church leader’s ministry can even be lost or at the least depleted, devalued and badly hindered!
Genuinely concerned church members
Then there’s another side to this as well.
We hear from some concerned church members that they recognise that their pastor is acting irrationally and is potentially heading for a breakdown. They’ve been observing that he insists on doing everything himself! He leads the worship (and not always in key), shares the church news, insists on praying for everyone himself and even runs every midweek meeting.
And that he won’t take friendly wise advice and good counsel on board; take breaks, share responsibility, let others preach – especially the upcoming younger generation with great potential – or allow his eldership to share their thoughts and cautions.
The result is threefold –
1) People, especially good people, leave the church and he can’t work out why.
2) The younger generation and other talented church members feel unused and unworthy.
3) And more especially he’s going to come a cropper, or fail badly!
Such leaders urgently need ‘a friend of God!’ But they need to listen to him (or her) and act responsibly! Interestingly many times someone from outside proves the perfect fountain of wisdom here.
Moses and Jethro
The Old Testament gives a very clear example of this – without getting hung up on medical terms and defining it as an impending breakdown, depression, burnout or some new SM-5 category waiting to happen! Read Exodus 18 about the incident of Moses, the original workaholic and Jethro, the observant, wise ‘senior minister, wise counsellor.’
Not having seen his son-in-law for a long time he went visiting. Jethro was horrified when he discovered Moses’ heavy daily workload which he was carrying alone!
Workaholics always justify themselves and Moses was no exception! Read all about it in verses 13-16 and note the wisdom of this insightful ‘senior minister and advisor’ – The Message Bible puts verse 17 this way: ‘This is no way to go about it. You’ll burn out, and the people along with you. This is way too much for you – you can’t do this alone. Now listen to me. Let me tell you how to do this so that God will be in it with you.’
The NLT reads similarly – ‘This is no good!’ his father-in-law exclaimed. ‘You’re going to wear yourself out – and the people too. This job is too heavy for you to handle all by yourself. Now let me give you a word of advice…’
Verses 19b to 22 are princely godly counsel. Jethro adds in verse 23 (NLT): ‘If you follow this advice… you will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace.’
Listening and following through
The good news is that Moses listened to his father-in-law and things worked out for him and the people. A new generation of leaders was released to learn from Moses and to serve him, their nation Israel and their God.
Exodus 18:24… ‘[Moses] did everything he said’… should be a wake-up call today to every leader wearied by ministry pressures but still insisting on carrying heavy loads!
A further thought…Jethro is usually regarded as not only Moses’ father-in-law but the priest of Midian who deeply respected God and his miraculous delivering power. After Moses shared what the Lord had done for Israel, he immediately praised God in respect of Israel’s deliverance and proclaimed: ‘I know now that the Lord is greater than all other gods’ (V10).
In respect of our theme, let’s note that the word ‘Jethro’ was only one name associated with him. Indeed Jethro is mainly regarded as merely a title (meaning – as he was probably also a prince – ‘His Excellence’). Exodus 2:18 gives his major actual name – Reuel, meaning ‘friend of God.’
Responsible mutual accountability
Moses was a great leader heading for disaster but he listened to the wise counsel of a ‘senior counsellor’, a friend in contact with God, one who knew the Lord’s mind on leadership pressures. A valuable lesson for today in respect of responsible mutual accountability!
Many times we don’t need lots of prayer, a prophetic word or a word of knowledge (although praise God for these supernatural operations), just some good balanced counsel, and to heed it and make every change necessary.
And … guys… a fully appreciated good, godly Proverbs 31 wife of course who honours you and cares deeply! Remember, too, the promise in Proverbs 18:22: ‘He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favour from the Lord.’